Monday, 27 July 2009

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

It was with no small sense of amusement that I noticed the following article in today's Daily Mail:

Scared to death? The REAL worry is today's culture of fear

To save yourself the mental anguish of opening a link to - the article basically bemoans the fact that "The Authorities" (their capitals) are trying to scare us all to death over swine flu. Yes, "The Authorities". Not, as you might have thought, "The Mendacious Nazi-Friendly Tabloid Press", oh no.

I couldn't be bothered to read the whole article - seems only fair when it comes to the Mail to judge them without actually reading it - but it did strike me as odd that a paper which has been so sensationalist about swine flu could even attempt to try something so blatantly hypocritical (and staggering to think that a large proportion of their readership would swallow this without hesitation).

Here are a selection of front pages from the previous week:

So, as you can see, it's all the fault of The Authorities. Shame on them all. I bet The Authorities cause cancer and are bad for house prices, too.

Now I believe in giving everyone a chance - even racists and liars - so I picked another story from last week which grabbed my attention, and thought I'd see how that was dealt with. As a 'control' in this experiment, I compared the Mail's reporting to The Guardian (left-of-centre quality daily), and The Telegraph (close to the Mail's political stance, but written by people with intelligence). Here's what I found. I warn you - it will not come as a surprise.

The story I checked was this - the release of the latest UK crime statistics by the Home Office (or, if you prefer, "The Authorities").

The Home Office website summarises the report, very briefly, as follows:

Here are some significant crime statistics from our most recent research, Crime in England and Wales 2008-09:

* the number of police recorded crimes fell by 5% between 2007-08 and 2008-09
* police recorded 6% fewer violent against the person offences, 10% fewer vandalism offences and 10% fewer offences against vehicles, but home burglaries have increased by 1%
* the risk of becoming a victim of crime as measured by the BCS rose from 22% to 23%, but is well below its peak of 40% in 1995

Overall that looks pretty good, I'm sure you'll agree. It certainly could be worse - if you don't believe me, watch The Wire.

So how did the Guardian, Telegraph and Mail report this story? I searched their websites last week, and found four articles in the Guardian, five in the Mail, and four in the Telegraph.

Let's start with the least sensationalist - the control in this experiment, if you like. The Guardian article headlines were as follows:

Murder rate at its lowest in 20 years - comforting headline, albeit accompanied by photo of serial killer.

Murder rate at lowest for 20 years - same again but without Harold Shipman.

Crime figures: 'The largest sustained fall in crime in this country's history' - an audio entry from a senior reporter.

The Guardian also added a Comment piece: Massaging the crime figures in which they (maturely and unsensationally) discuss how the figures provided by the Home Office might have been measured.

Let's move on to The Telegraph. Surely they will be equally responsible, and not whip these figures up into some sort of crime wave hysteria. Won't they? Let's have a look:

Crime victims rise significantly for first time in 14 years - note the use of the word "significantly", and then check the second paragraph:

It represents a one per cent increase in the risk of being a crime victim - the first significant rise since 1994.

Oh right, sorry. I thought we were in danger for a moment there.

Their other efforts:

Burglaries likely to rise for first time in six years because of recession fuelled crimewave - basically a wild prediction of mayhem and trashed homes... based on figures which show a fall, or at worse a tiny increase, in relevant crimes.

Pickpocket thefts and bag snatches rise 25 per cent, British Crime Survey shows - followed by an article that then demonstrates that almost all categories of crime show a fall, and fails to mention the most likely reason for a 25% increase in reported thefts is down to an increase in reporting, rather than an increase in theft.

The Telegraph also posted a video report, following up on the above story.

Well, I thought... while I am slightly surprised at the Telegraph's relentlessly downbeat attitude to their headline writing, surely the Daily Mail can't out-sensationalise them, can they?

Oh dear.

Hidden epidemic of teenage crime: Two thirds 'fell victim to theft in past month' EPIDEMIC!

Credit crunch crime wave: Theft, burglaries and fraud rise on the back of record unemployment CRIME WAVE!

Rise of the online credit card sharks: Annual crime figures reveal fraud soaring to £610m SOARING!

Serious knife attacks rocket by 50 per cent in one year ... acknowledged to be entirely down to change in the way such crimes are counted... but still worth a panicky headline apparently.

'Dynamic' security system developed as cash card fraud spirals out of control OUT OF CONTROL!

Now, I don't know about you, but when I woke up this morning I did not expect that today would be the day I was mugged by a teenage crack whore, raped by a gipsy (sic) immigrant benefit scrounger, and then caught a virulent deadly virus from a politically correct remark.

But now I just wish I'd stayed at home. I'm terrified. And there's no point, now I've reached this level of abject fear, to point out some fluffy rubbish like "The REAL worry is today's culture of fear" when we all know...


Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Greatest Over

Alright, so perhaps that's a little OTT in the hyperbole department... but nevertheless this is a joy to watch.

Sadly, we shall not see his like again. So let's hope his final four Test matches yield as much in terms of sheer guts and entertainment.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

My Pet Hates #1 - Toilet Roll Dispensers

Yes folks, here it is, the not-awaited-at-all first in an occasional series of articles on STUFF WOT WINDS ME UP. Think of it as being a bit like a Daily Mail article - but without the casual racism (although while still retaining that staggering disregard for facts).

Actually, now I think about it, the Daily Mail - there's a future candidate for this list.

Right now, though, this is my bugbear. This ridiculous contraption. Just look at it.

Ugly isn't it.

The basic rule for any design is "Form follows function". So how can something that has such a basic function - so basic that, for years, we've managed with just a stick to hold the roll - have such poor form?

OK, so I wasn't expecting Pininfarina to be part of the design process when I'm just going for a Number Two... but on the other hand, I also didn't expect to see a contraption that looks like a cross between an early Apple Mac prototype and an Imperial Stormtrooper's codpiece. So, on form, it's a FAIL.

Ah, but what about function, I hear you fail to ask.

After all, these things stop people nicking the loo roll, don't they.

Well... yes... I suppose they do. But how many people do YOU know that would nick an industrial-sized roll of bogpaper? Maybe once, in a drunken puerile prank... but probably not habitually. (Well, not since the court order.)

Now, I did some research on this. Only half-arsed research, obviously, but it was research nevertheless. And I discovered that these plastic monstrosities cost about thirty quid each. THIRTY QUID. That means you'd have to prevent the theft of at least six rolls of paper to make them financially viable. Is there a massive black market in illegally acquired industrial bumwipes? No, I think not. Opium, guns, porn... but not dunny roll. Imagine the Royal Navy chasing down a ship full of that stuff. They'd be pretty disappointed when they opened up the hold, I think you'll agree.

This particular model is getting closer to perfection

Alright then, so I agree that locking a roll of ultra-low-cost paper in an expensive plastic and metal container WILL stop all but the most determined thief. But surely the main object - certainly this is what I use it for - is to dispense toilet paper. The clue is in the name.

But here's the other "function" problem. It doesn't work. If the roll is new, the paper jams against the inside of the dispenser, and the roll barely turns at all. You have to yank it so hard the paper breaks, and you're left with enough paper to wipe the corner of your eye, not a great big fat arris like mine.

If you're fortunate enough to visit the smelliest room when someone else has done the hard work for you, and pulled out the first few metres, then you may well be able to access the paper. But only by sticking your hand up into the gap (with serrated edges) in an attempt to find the end of the roll and pull it back out again. One. Damned. Sheet. At. A. Time. By this time there's a pretty annoyed person banging on the cubicle door, and the only way to get at the paper is to smash the dispenser. Brilliant. Thirty quid please.